Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 17, 2013

Bijou theater marquee hits legal snag in Traverse City

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — City residents could get to vote on a proposed marquee for the Bijou by the Bay movie theater if the city attorney finds the free-standing sign constitutes a taking of city parkland.

City commissioners appeared ready to approve the Traverse City Film Festival’s request to erect a lighted marquee at the front of the Con Foster Museum building in Clinch Park on Monday night. But Grant Parsons, a local attorney, challenged the city commission authority to give the Film Festival even a small sliver of parkland to erect it’s free-standing marquee.

“The property on which the sign will rest is parkland,” Parson’s said. “Section 126 of the city charter says you cannot give away city parkland without a ... vote of the people.”

A majority of commissioners then decided they wanted an opinion from city attorney Lauren Trible-Laught before voting to approve the marquee and tabled the question for up to two weeks.

The Film Festival spent almost $1 million to renovate the former museum for use as a movie house and operates the city-owned building in Clinch Park under a management agreement with the city. But the marquee won’t attach to the historical building. Instead the 15-foot-wide and 10-foot deep structure is supported by two steel posts anchored into the ground about 1 inch from the front of the building.

“The taking of property in this spot is very minimal,” said Commissioner Jim Carruthers, who objected to any further delay. “I think we are splitting hairs here.”

Commissioner Mike Gillman, however, said Monday night was the first time he, or the public, had seen exactly what the Film Festival was proposing.

“Let’s take a deep breath and put it on hold for a couple of weeks and let the public weigh in,” Gillman said.

Parson’s apologized to Film Festival officials outside the meeting but said he felt obligated to raise the question to protect city parkland.

“If you give the Film Festival the right you’ve set the precedent ... and then someone else will step up,” he said.

Deb Lake, film festival executive director, said she’s certain the legal opinion will support the marquee and overall she was “happy with the commission’s response” to her presentation.

Lake appeared to answer most of the commission’s questions about the size, lighting, and location of the sign. The lights won’t flash and will have a muted appearance on the front with the white glass and movable letters on each side. The sign will only be lit when the theater is open.

Festival officials went through 46 different possible designs, including just putting the letters “BIJOU” on the roof, to avoid blocking the engraving “Con Foster Museum” that sits above the building’s entrance doors, Lake said. But nothing else worked.

“The best and only way to do it is to put it at the building’s entrance,” she said. “It’s crucial to the success of the theater.”